Category Archives: birding

Kids, birds will compete for Horseshoe Lake fish

Cormorants fish at Horseshoe Lake 

 

April 18, 2008

 

 

By Pat Nelson
For The Daily News, Longview, WA
Copyright
Reprinted with permission

In preparation for spring fishing at Woodland’s Horseshoe Lake, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife planted more than 8800 rainbow trout and more than 6510 brown trout during the first eight days of April. Another 2,500-3,500 rainbows will be trucked to Horseshoe Lake for the fifth annual Moose Lodge kids’ fishing derby, to be held 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The derby is for children ages 5 to 14.

Moose Lodge volunteers will place a large net in the lake to hold the fish that the hatchery delivers for the derby. Then, they will stand guard through the night to make sure no fish-loving banditos catch the trout before the kids have had their fun.

The cormorants flew in this month just after the first fish were planted. They must have followed the truck from the hatchery.  They eat their share of the newly-planted fish, but according to fishing derby chairman Fred Rotinski, they don’t seem to bother the fish that are in the net. The ospreys, on the other hand, see the fish in the net and dive right in.

Cormorants work together when they fish. Last Friday at dawn, I watched several of the black, web-footed birds pick off some tasty treats with their hooked beaks. First, they flew in low and then settled on the water. They seemed to be just floating along leisurely, with their bodies under water and their long, straight necks sticking straight up like periscopes. Suddenly they started diving. I looked out at a group of cormorants in front of me, only to blink my eyes and then to see no birds at all; they had disappeared under water. I continued to watch the spot where I had last seen them, but after about 30 seconds, they popped up in another spot, and then dove again.

Cormorants can dive from 8 to 20 feet, sometimes even more. Here, though, they don’t have to work that hard because the newly-planted fish swim close to the surface.

The cormorants weren’t the only fishermen out in the early morning. A heron swooped low on the lake, just above the cormorants, surveying the seafood buffet, and three ospreys flew high in the air, often flapping their wings quickly to stay in place, like a helicopoter in a holding pattern, before diving for fish..

Competing with the birds doesn’t deter Moose Lodge volunteers, who have held eight or nine planning meetings to get ready for the derby. They will arrive at the park Saturday morning with 50 rods and reels for the youngsters to use. The kids only have to bring the $2 entry fee.

Volunteers in aprons will have their pockets loaded with hooks and bait. Kids can have their picture taken with their catch, and can even have their fish cleaned. Thanks to donations from local citizens and merchants, bikes, fishing rods, and other prizes will be awarded.

The birds are doing their best to make a dent in the more than 18,000 fish planted in Horseshoe Lake  this month, but there should be plenty of fish left for the five hundred kids expected at the derby. Moose Lodge volunteers are excited about the event. “If you see some little kid catch his first fish, you’ll understand why we do this,” chairman Rotinski said.

Sidebar:

What: 5th annual Moose Lodge Kids’ Fishing Derby

When: Saturday April 19, 8 AM-2 PM

Where: Horseshoe Lake Park, just  west of the skateboard park

FOR: AGES 5-14

Cost: $2

DETAILS: Poles and bait provided; Food, fun, and prizes.

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Filed under birding, fishing, fishing derby, hatchery trout, heron, Horseshoe Lake, Moose Lodge, The Daily News, Uncategorized, WA, Woodland

Natasha the blue heron has the ultimate license to fish

Natashe the heron By Pat Nelson
For “The Daily News,” Longview, WA
Reprinted with permission

Wednesday morning, I looked out at Woodland’s Horseshoe Lake and realized that spring is almost here. There was Natasha, back from her winter’s journey south. She sat motionless on a metal railing, her yellow eyes scanning the chilly water for breakfast.

Natasha has always behaved differently from the other blue herons I’ve watched at Horseshoe Lake. She spends a lot of time around people, more out of laziness than love, I think… or maybe she’s just plain smart. She’s likely to claim a spot for herself right next to a fisherman’s chair over on the beach near the skate park, hoping for a handout. She was given her name by a Horseshoe Lake fisherman.

In past years, she tried to make a neighbor’s pond her fish market. The neighbor tried adding a gazing ball to the pond so that Natasha would be frightened by her reflection, but that didn’t stop the bird from having her pick of the pond. Next, the neighbor added a sprinkler system on a motion detector to scare Natasha away, but she soon learned that it took a minute or two for the sprinklers to reset, giving her time to fish.

After that, stronger measures were required. My friend spread a net over the entire pond. If you try this, keep the net a couple inches off  the water so that the hungry blue heron does not use it to stand on while poking its beak through the net to nab a fish.

As I watched Natasha Wednesday morning, something must have frightened her because she flew away with a low-pitched squawk, her head folded back onto her shoulders, with her long legs out behind her body. Her broad gray wings resembled leather stretched over a frame, flapping slowly and with great strength. Her 6’ wingspan was impressive. 

Herons use their sharp bills to grasp or spear their prey. With toes designed to navigate muddy lake bottoms, they wade as deep as two feet, moving slowly while watching for their next meal. They don’t land on the water, but rather stand and wait motionless, often at the edge of a pond or lake, not just watching for fish to swim by, but also looking for insects, rodents, frogs, and small birds.

Wednesday was a sunny day, and I decided that I, too, would stand on the dock and look at the lake. There, where Natasha had been earlier, I watched a two-foot steelhead lazily swim by, and then an even larger one. Both were covered with ugly white patches, but I don’t think such cosmetic flaws deter herons. Earlier in the day, Natasha had probably been watching those big fish, wondering if she dared eat one. Even though herons can swallow fish many times wider than their narrow necks, Natasha must have decided her eyes were bigger than her stomach.

She’s probably looking forward to April, when tasty fish pour out of a truck into the lake for the Moose Lodge fishing derby, fish just the right size to slide easily down her long throat.

When Natasha isn’t fishing, she’s protecting her territory. One day, I watched her as she stood on a small boat with a cabin, peering with her beady eyes into a Plexiglas window. Seeing another bird on the other side of the glass and wanting to protect her space, she began pecking at the glass, but every time she did, the other bird jutted its beak towards her. Whatever Natasha did, her reflection mirrored her actions, and she finally gave up and flew away. She’s pretty smart about fishing, but when it comes to defending herself against her own reflection, I think she’s just a bird brain.

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Filed under birding, blue heron, fishing, heron, Horseshoe Lake, The Daily News, WA, Woodland

Eagle’s Eye View

Visit the link below to view my column, and please save my blog in your favorites for future visits!

©South County News/The Daily News

http://www.tdn.com/articles/2007/06/06/southcountynews/news02.txt
Click the link, read my column, and come right back. I’ll be waiting.

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Filed under birding, Horseshoe Lake, South County News, Woodland

Flight of Passage: Canada Geese Winter in Area

One day last week near Jantzen Beach in Portland, the sky resembled a scene from the old Alfred Hitchcock movie, “The Birds.” I was with three friends on the way home from a shopping trip when, on the east side of Interstate 5, portions of the blue sky were blacked out by thousands of birds.

Unable at first to tell what species of bird they were, we finally determined they were Canadian geese — I learned later the correct term is Canada geese. The Canada goose is the most abundant of all North American geese, and I’d never seen such an abundant flock of geese as this.

The birds flying near Jantzen Beach formed an irregular V-shape. Some veered away from the group like youngsters who step out of line before recess. In a group, the geese turned and started moving west.

As they crossed the freeway, only our driver kept her eyes on the road. The other three of us craned our necks to watch the geese fly overhead. At the other side of the freeway, they landed in the wetlands, almost as one, slowly decreasing their elevation and setting down softly just south of Jantzen Beach. It was an impressive sight.

The next day, driving back to Woodland from Longview, I spotted a large group of Canada geese in a field just north of the site of the proposed high school, along the Pacific Flyway. This time, there were hundreds, not thousands.

I know better than to go anywhere without my camera, but I didn’t have it in the car. I hurried home to get it, and then drove out the dirt road that led to the area where I had seen the geese. I took several pictures and marveled at the sight and sound. As I snapped photos, a truck went by on the freeway. When he blew his air horn, the geese prepared for flight, lifted a few feet off the ground, and then settled back onto the field.

Wanting to know more, I called Steve Engle, ornithologist with the Audubon Society in Portland. He’s the one who told me these birds are called Canada geese, not Canadian geese.

“These geese are a complex species,” Engle said. “There are Canada Geese and cackling geese and several subspecies. The two look similar but the cackling goose is smaller and makes a higher-pitched noise.”

Once breeding grounds are selected, migrating birds return to the same area each year, guided by the sun, the stars, and their senses.

According to Engle, the birds winter at two key areas near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, where there is high quality wintering habitat. “One spot is the north end of Sauvie Island in Oregon,” he said. “It’s an important bird area because of the large number of wintering waterfowl. Another is Ridgefield , across the river in Washington. You will often see geese moving from one side of the river to the other between these two spots.”

The geese generally migrate from the north, depending on the subspecies and different breeding areas. A lot come from western Alaska: the Yukon and Kuskowim Delta. “It’s sometimes called the Y-I Delta,” said Engle. Others come from southeast Alaska near the Copper River Delta.

The number of birds in a flock varies. “When you see the birds flying in a “V”, said Engle, “look for different sizes. If they are prominently different in size, you are seeing both cackling and Canada geese.”

When you see the birds flying in their V-pattern, it is so they can fly in the “slip-stream” for energy efficiency and drafting.

I asked Engle how far the birds must fly to reach their wintering grounds.

“The greatest distance is about 3,000 miles,” he said. “In general, the breeding range begins just north of the United States border, and some only travel from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland.”

Keep your eyes open, and your camera and binoculars nearby. This is a good time of year to view the spectacle of migratory birds, right here in and near Woodland.

Visit Pat Nelson’s blog at www.storystorm.wordpress.com.

Reprinted with Permission, South County News/The Daily News  November 7, 2007

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Filed under birding, South County News, Woodland

Happy Halloween: Cormorants Bob for Fish

I write a weekly newspaper column about my community, and that means I have to keep my eyes open. I don’t like writing the same old stories that are written every few months, so I have to be even more alert, and I have to be ready to go when the story shows itself to me. The hardest part for me is locating my camera and car keys. Most stories don’t wait for absent-minded writers to make three or four trips from room to room on a scavenger hunt for glasses, pen and paper, keys, and camera.

Looking across Horseshoe Lake one day, I noticed activity in the water. I grabbed the binoculars and spotted divers. That became the story that appears in today’s paper: http://www.tdn.com/articles/2007/10/31/southcountynews/news05.txt

A few days ago, I saw hundreds of Canadian Geese in a field north of town, next to I-5. I could have missed a good story that day because even though I had my car keys (hey, I was driving!) I didn’t have my camera. Big mistake for a writer! I dashed home, grabbed my camera, and drove out the dirt road that parallels the freeway, where I photographed the geese and took notes. I was lucky that day, but I’ll lose some good stories if I’m not prepared in the future.

This morning presented the perfect picture of Halloween, with orange leaves stacking up at the edges of the patio and walkways. Fallen leaves rested on the tops of autumn-red Barberry bushes, waiting for the strong November winds to fly them to new homes. Crisp leaves, safe for now, had funneled down through the sharp green swords of dwarf Pampas Grass, near the plant’s thick base.

The surface of the small lake I see from my desk through the top of the Pampas Grass is covered today with a misty Halloween fog. As a dozen low-swimming Cormorants, their necks sticking out of the water, swam in font of me, I reached for my camera to capture the eerie scene of black-hooded creatures swimming through the fog. I focused the camera. Twelve Cormorants became three, then six, then four, then eight. They bobbed, dipped, surfaced, and submerged again, staying underwater sometimes for more than a minute, acting out their own version of bobbing for apples. Snapping the shutter, I thought they just might bob into my next column. Happy Halloween.

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Filed under birding, Halloween, writing